I’ve recently seen some pic’s of myself in a canoe on a Maine river taken 50 years ago and some new ones taken last week. The canoe looks the the same. The river and forest look the same. (O.K., I look a tad older). Last week I jumped at the chance to go with Portland Parks and Rec’s Pete Gerard and Tom Gerard, both Maine Guides, and 8 other Portland folks to paddle on the Allagash Waterway.
I’m not making this up, it was very much like time travel. Time travel not just because of those pictures, or the campfires, but I also because I’ve just picked up a book written by Thoreau in 1847. In it I’ve been delighted to hear what he had to say about visiting Maine more than 150 years ago. It’s true both he and I have had a chance to share time travel. Like him I’ve had a chance to experience what can be felt and seen while visiting Maine’s northern forests, rivers, and lakes. It almost seems like I narrowly avoided bumping into him on the way to the outhouse.
Positively transcendental I would say. Or, I could simply call it time travel, as the people in Maine Quarterly called their traverse of the Thoreau/Wabanaki trail. Henry David Thoreau thought these woods beyond time, exactly because of the natural unfettered landscape: lakes, rivers, boulders, and pine forests. He also thought so because of his predilection to think of important things as transcendental. In the woods, for example he said: “ the forest resounding at rare intervals with the note of the chickadee the blue jay, and the woodpecker, the scream of … the eagle, the laugh of the loon, and the whistle of ducks along the solitary streams; ….in summer, swarming with myriads of black flies and mosquitoes, more formidable than wolves to the white man.” You see, the sounds and fears of insects are exactly alike over time.
Marcus Aurelius was thought to have said: “Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.” So the Allegash Waterway was for me a living example of how time travel happens. The river is hauntingly the same over centuries, in part because unlike most rivers it flows backward (north) toward Canada. This river takes us backward in time fully away from civilization, into a half-million acres of forest.
On the river, feeling the pulsing, current along the thin walls of our canoe, and seeing boulders coming at us like crocodiles, we really need to pay attention. As soon as we pass one, another comes in its place, as old Marcus said. We can’t just give in and day dream. That would sink us. Maybe time travel happens moment to moment in the present. The Allegash and life itself demands it.